Major Courtroom Victory In Rhode Island Testing Case
Three Rhode Island families have been vindicated by the Commissioner of Education in their attempt to retain control of their family's standardized testing program. In three separate decisions—all released during the first week of July. The Commissioner of Education ruled that the school district's demand that the students participate in the school's testing program violated the religious freedom of the families.
The three families involved are Jerry and Karen Thifault from the North Smithfield School District, Joseph and Colleen Gargano from the Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District, and Maurice and Jeanine Gauvin from the Scituate School District.
Each of these families wanted to provide achievement testing for their children, but they refused to take their children to the public schools to be tested in the state program. Each family offered to employ a qualified person to administer a well-recognized standardized test in their own home.
Relying on a 1987 decision from the Commissioner, each of the school districts refused the families” alternative and demanded mandatory testing in the public schools.
These cases originated during the 1988–89 school year and required HSLDA's Mike Farris to travel to Rhode Island on at least five occasions for various hearings before the administrative law judge.
The Commissioner ruled that the school districts’ demands violated the free exercise of religion for each of the families. The parents testified that relinquishing control of their children’s program to the public schools violated their faith. The Commissioner held that this belief was entitled to Constitutional protection. The Commissioner also held that the parents’ alternate programs were less restrictive alternatives which were adequate to satisfy the state's desire to have information concerning the achievement of the students.
The Commissioner’s decision did require annual testing. One family had proposed testing less frequently.
In the 1987 decision, the Commissioner ruled that the school district was within its authority in demanding that the child be tested in the public school's program. However, it was noted in the 1990 decision that the 1987 case did not involve a religious freedom claim. The Constitutional claim resulted in a different ruling.